Monday, January 21, 2013

Keeping the wild

Kinabatangan River

A new manual guides plantation managers on making estates friendly to wildlife.

THE basin of the Kinabatangan river, the longest river in Sabah and rich in biodiversity, has been transformed by logging and agricultural activities in the last 60 or so years.

In 2002, the Corridor of Life project was initiated by the World Wide Fund for Nature Malaysia and the conservation group has since been working with Sabah Wildlife Department, local communities and oil palm companies to rehabilitate and re-establish forests along the riverbank. The effort has shown some positive results.

“We’ve looked at some oil palm plantations that are close to the Kinabatangan river, and it’s quite exciting,” said Dr Reza Azmi, founder and executive director of Wild Asia, a group which works with businesses to improve their environmental practices. “You have some amazing birds popping in, there are orang utans visiting on a regular basis, and elephants dropping by.”

The Corridor of Life project is one of the case studies cited inBiodiversity In Plantation Landscapes, a manual published by Wild Asia and the Malaysian Palm Oil Council (MPOC). Wild Asia wanted a way to get managers with very little environmental and biodiversity knowledge to become more aware. So the manual was created as a kind of one-stop shop. It provides a primer on biodiversity and offers ways in which plantation managers can protect and enhance biodiversity in estates.

Handy guide

The manual does this by identifying landscape-level impacts, such as loss of natural habitats, and provides suggestions on how to manage such impacts. It also gives solutions for the use of fertilisers (which run the risk of runoffs contaminating aquatic environments) and pesticides (risk of poisoning wildlife), waste management and soil erosion, and managing water resources.

“For an existing plantation, sedimentation would be the big environmental issue,” said Reza. “You get this from replanting areas, or roads may have runoffs of sediment. And when you channel all this into your streams, it silts up the streams. The biodiversity of the streams are reduced.”

As they are planted with a single crop, plantations have been criticised for upsetting nature’s ecological balance. Reza said sometimes not everything in an area is cultivated, and that could be a good thing.

“Sometimes they leave pockets of forests here and there,” he said. “What we realise is that if those areas are left semi-natural, that’s also a way of attracting biodiversity within your plantation. We’ve also seen that just simply having ponds will make it attractive for migratory birds or other animals that might want to use them. We’ve seen some very rare birds in some oil palm plantations.”

Wild Asia, which started out as a simple online information-sharing hub in 1998, has been doing biodiversity assessments in and out of plantations since 2005.

“This really gives us a perspective of what the opportunities are, in terms of biodiversity conservation,” said Reza. “But also, the important thing was the time spent with the managers and staff on the ground, looking at and understanding the issues that are impacting biodiversity.”

The partnership with the oil palm industry gave Wild Asia the platform and access to the industry, and resources to do workshops with plantation managers. Prior to coming up with the manual, the organisation carried out a series of three workshops.

“The idea was get a chance to enlighten the managers on biodiversity issues,” Reza explained. “It was also to get feedback and problem-solve, and give them useful exercises. So all that became the precursor to the manual.”

Apart from the Kinabatangan example, the manual provides other success stories of biodiversity management. The River of Life Project in the Tanah Merah Estate in Negri Sembilan, for instance, involved rehabilitating a river that connected a forested hill to a mangrove reserve, and tree-planting as part of a forest enrichment exercise. The project ended in 2008, and the trees planted remained healthy.

Read more on: The star


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